In episode 26 of the I Am Multicultural podcast, I talk to Chrislyn Choo, multicultural storyteller, host of the Chrysalis Chronicles and a multimedia content officer at My China Roots about her inspiring and fascinating journey to trace her roots through story and Chinese history. Her story will inspire you to explore your family’s history, heritage and the pieces of their stories that they bring to the table and that shape who you are. In other words, quite literally, a family potluck. 

Heritage: Chrislyn Choo is Malaysian – Chinese – American 

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We talk about the following:

  • Returning to one’s home country and culture after growing up in a country and culture completely different than your own
  • Why Chrislyn felt misunderstood during her studies at Duke University and what she did to find her place at the table
  • The experience of being Asian in the United States
  • How and why Chrislyn decided to start exploring her Malaysian roots and share her own and other people’s migration stories
  • What Chrislyn learned about herself and her family while tracing her Chinese heritage
  • The importance of understanding one’s roots
  • What it means to have a family potluck where everyone brings a piece of their story and family history to the table

Chrislyn shares:

  • 16:14 – There are ways in which I have sometimes felt misunderstood. I have felt like people treated me like a stereotype. These are the ways in which I’ve had to work harder for an opportunity because of something I can’t control, like the way I look. All of us have some kind of privilege and privilege is very relative and that’s not something that you can hold against another person and be like,‘Ohno, you can’t come to the table until you have done everything in your life to disavow yourself of that.’ All of us have some kind of privilege and that will change in different places. Living abroad has taught me that I was always so confused in these conversations because the privilege I have in the US is different than theprivilege I have in Malaysia. 
  • 21:26– For me, it was always this feeling of not being sure if my whole self was welcome and not seeing role models, examples of voices of authority or people that are seen as folks that you can look up to. I would always be very conscious of how I dress and how I act. It was always like I don’t want to be either offensive or seen as the oppressor, like I was always in fear of being a perpetrator in some kind of way, so I was always kind of conforming. The culmination of living that way for months was that I felt I needed to get out of the country. I had the privilege to live in this country, but I felt like I was constantly defining myself in terms of what I’m not and at some point, I was just done. I would much rather be using my breath to say who I am instead of saying what I’m not. 23:54 – My culture shaped me in a positive way. Coming to China was coming to that place where I feltwhole and I embraced it. There are ways in which I’ve internalized these stories about Chinese people. I started thinking about what are the ways that I’ve resented certain Chinese attitudes or ways in which we really suck at conflict resolution and we hide everything under the carpet and we never address anything. And that has created this gap that’s causing me to want to distance this part of myself. But when you do that, you’re not a whole person. So it’s all about crossing those gaps within my myself. 
  • 38:34– In Chinese culture, you have specific phrases that you use to address someone else. A cousin on the maternal side and the paternal side are called different. So, my distant cousin was driving us and the first 25 minutes we’re just trying figure how we’re all related, so I know what to call him. At one point my Chicago uncle was like‘Ialso don’t know. We need to call this other uncle who’s in Malaysia who will know better.’ So he gets that uncle on the phone and there was this moment where I heard Malaysian uncle’s voice on speakerphone. Until that point I was thinking what am I going to feel like, what will unlock this moment in my heart where I just start crying. And it was sitting in that car, hearing distant people that I don’t even know how we’re related, but we’re all family and that’s what connects us. And I’m not in this alone. I grew up listening to these stories. I never had any of that. That was the first time I was like,‘Wow,this is what it means to be part of a family, having stories and history that connect you.’ 
  • 40:18– My cousins were so generous, so hospitable to me. They were bringing all these treasures to dinner and holding it up for me to see and bringing all these pictures and photos. It was literally the metaphor of a feast, a banquet and everyone brings their dish like potlucks. It was like a family history potluck, that’s what it was. And I was just sitting there like,‘Wow,this is important. People care about this, this connects us.’ And there’s still so much more. It’s about finding home. It’s about feeling at peace, at ease with who you are wherever you are. 57:20– At the end of the day, everyone just wants to belong and feel accepted, to know people and to be known. When’s the last time you had that kind of conversation where you’re just like‘Wow,our souls just connected.’ That is what makes life worth it, that’s what gives you joy, that’s the joy of living. It’s when everyone can just be at the table together, bring everything they have to that potluck and enjoy the feast as truly multicultural. 

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